What your employer should do about radiation

Last updated: 04 Mar 2020

Just as with other health and safety risks, your employer has a duty to assess and manage the harm that could be caused by exposure to radiation. These duties are set out in the Health and Safety at Work Act and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations, and require employers to reduce the risk of harm to as low as is reasonably practicable.

However, there are a number of further health and safety regulations that apply depending on the type of radiation, which place additional requirements on employers.

Exposure to ionising radiation

The Ionising Radiation Regulations 2017. These provide a framework which requires employers to reduce exposure to ionising radiation emitted by radioactive substances (including naturally occurring substances such as radon) and electrical equipment to as low as reasonably practicable. Employers should first look at ways they can alter the work process and equipment to reduce exposure, before relying on things like safe procedures or PPE.

As a further legal control, the regulations contain dose limits, legal caps on the amount of ionising radiation that people can be exposed to, with lower limits for trainees under the age of 18. There are further dose limits for the skin, the lens of the eye and the extremities. Often, it will be reasonably practicable to keep doses beneath the limit. Dose limits are a ceiling, not a floor.

Exposure to artificial light

The Control of Artificial Optical Radiation at Work Regulations 2010. These regulations require employers to assess the risks of people’s skin or eyes being damaged by hazardous sources of artificial light from all sources in all forms, such as ultraviolet, infrared and laser beams, but excludes sunlight. Using this information, employers must take steps to reduce the risk of harm.

The regulations set out exposure limit values – a maximum permitted level of exposure – for both the skin and eyes. Where this limit is exceeded, the employer must draw up and implement a plan for reducing employees’ exposure.

Exposure to EMF 

The Control of Electromagnetic Fields at Work Regulations 2016. These regulations essentially cover any work where people are exposed to radio and microwaves. They place duties on employers to assess employees’ potential exposure to EMFs.

The regulations’ requirements are based on two sets of values: action levels (ALs) and exposure limit values (ELVs). ELVs are the legal limits of EMF exposure, but because they are difficult to measure, separate values, ALs, were produced which can be measured more easily. If the AL is not exceeded, exposure cannot exceed the corresponding ELV. If the AL is exceeded, further consideration and assessment is required to determine whether the corresponding ELV may be exceeded.

If the ELV is exceeded, employers must implement an action plan to reduce employees’ exposure. This could include elements such as introducing other working methods that entail less exposure to EMF; using equipment that emits less intense EMF; or providing employees with PPE.

Employers must also give special consideration to employees who are at particular risk, such as expectant mothers, or those who have declared the use of active medical devices. For these workers, they must do a risk assessment and implement the findings.

Sources of EMF which may exceed the ALs include induction heating, radio and TV broadcasting systems and devices, MRI equipment and industrial electrolysis.

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